Milton among the lawyers (was: cases)
|From:||John Cowan <jcowan@...>|
|Date:||Thursday, September 14, 2000, 14:05|
Lars Henrik Mathiesen wrote:
> English is a whore. As long as you know what is meant, almost any word
> order can seem 'not ungrammatical.' Cf. poets.
And even when ungrammatical is, acceptable still may be, marginally at least.
There is a theory that Milton's convoluted and Latinate syntax is an attempt
to serve two incompatible purposes simultaneously: getting the imagery in the
right order, and being grammatical. (Sometimes the second goal is sacrificed
to the first.) Paradise Lost 1-16 parses as a single sentence:
Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of chaos: or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
The first five lines are an imperative verbal phrase with its object:
"sing of disobedience and the fruit" is its skeleton. But thematically,
it is right that "disobedience", "fruit of that forbidden tree",
"death", "woe", "restore" and other such keywords appear before the
conventional epic opening "Sing, heavenly Muse".
> My unfounded opinion is that abuses like that were invented by lawyers
> for their own sordid purpose of impenetrability, and that readers of
> English have simply been inured to their wrongness by long exposure.
Lawyers (at least in anglophone countries) are stuck between a rock and a
hard place. They multiply words to attempt to block ambiguous interpretations,
but end up creating them. ObConlang: in Lojban this is the problem of
long tanru (open compounds): the more words you add, the more specific is
your intent --- but the more flexibility of interpretation becomes possible.
There is / one art || John Cowan <jcowan@...>
no more / no less || http://www.reutershealth.com
to do / all things || http://www.ccil.org/~cowan
with art- / lessness \\ -- Piet Hein